One black cloud in an otherwise flawless sky

I often comment that one of the things I enjoy most about living here is the intimacy that exists when you are riding on a motorbike in the dense traffic. This is an intimacy that cannot happen when you are in a motor car isolated by the steel walls around you and it evokes a very strong feeling of togetherness. There we are, out there together amongst the shove and bustle and fumes and heat and for the most part everybody gives a little to each other and makes the crowded situation work well.

Most times that we are riding on the Vespa we elicit smiles and comments from people around us. Just last night we had a family come past us with the toddler screaming out “Hello, hello!!” and waving frantically, huge smile on his face. It makes us feel good. However, last night we experienced the downside to this intimacy when we were attacked and Lisa had her bag ripped from her person.

We should have realised when the pair of youths on a Honda came in so close to us in the heavy traffic that I sensed them alongside me before I realised that they were there. I exclaimed something like, “That was a bit close, what the hell are these guys doing?” We pulled up at a set of traffic lights on the corner of Ton That Tung and Nguyen Trai streets and they cruised on and stopped in front of us slightly to our right. I looked over at them and the driver turned and made direct eye contact with me. The expression on his face was not exactly neutral and I assumed that he was just a young guy being aggressive with the two foreigners and decided to ignore him.

It’s a pity that we didn’t realise right then what this pair were up to. We are sure now that their first swipe was a recognisance and that they were just setting us up. Lisa had her bag firmly held on the seat in front of her so that it was wedged in between us and she had the strap to it around her shoulder. You would think that it would have been safe in that position.

However, as we took off from the lights and turned left into Le Lai they made their move. They came up from behind us so fast that I didn’t realise anything was happening until I heard Lisa scream and saw them speed off past us. The driver had positioned the bike so that his passenger could reach over and grab hold of the bag from between us. Lisa had tried to hold on to it but the guy was too strong and he had wrested it from her grasp, breaking the strap that was around her neck. In retrospect this was fortunate as otherwise Lisa could have been pulled right off the bike and onto the road.

The two assailants took off at great pace and by the time I had reacted, changed down a gear and taken off after them they were well away and turning left into a side street. With Lisa screaming at me to forget it and not give chase we careered into the street after them but by that stage they were long gone.

Total loss, a bit of cash, not too much. Lisa’s mobile phone, credit card and two ATM cards along with a set of keys. Along with that however was a sense of violation accompanied by extreme frustration. There was nothing that we could do about the situation and the fact that the driver had personalised it by staring me out at the lights made it just that bit worse. I texted the words ARSE-HOLE to Lisa’s mobile, but it had been turned off (a futile and meaningless effort that only served to highlight my impotency – haha). We rang Mimi and had her mother go straight to our house and change the locks because Lisa was not sure whether our address was in the bag or not and in fact it wouldn’t surprise me to discover that these guys know exactly where we live anyway, we came home and tried to figure out how to cancel our credit card from here (no way to do it on-line, wake up please MasterCard people!).

That is only the second time that something like this has happened to us in the 13 months that we have been here. The first time two guys on a motorbike had tried to snatch Lisa’s bag (same one) as we were walking along the edge of Vo Van Tan St, but they were not successful. Funny thing is that both Lisa and I have the feeling that this was the work of the same pair of guys. Lisa saw them both times and she is fairly certain of this.

Lesson learnt, be more aware of the body language around us in the traffic. Damn, there goes that sense of peace that I develop when driving here, here comes old paranoia again creeping in to affect the way I interact with the people around me. Damn, damn damn!